ad astra per alia porci

Hugel Gewurztraminer 2009
August 27, 2011, 6:58 am
Filed under: alcohol | Tags: , , ,

Very pale yellow in colour, almost white. A nice flowery bouquet, lychee and rose on the nose. Feels like drinking flowers. Very aromatic, as is characteristic of this grape. Lychee is everywhere, which is a good thing because I love lychees. Thick on the palate, thicker and spicier than rieslings, with less sugar. Like a lychee which is not very sweet.

The aftertaste is flowery and perfume-like. I must say that I like the aftertaste better than the immediate flavours upon drinking. I like the riesling for its elegance and sweetness, but I prefer the Gewurztraminer for how it hangs around in the mouth and nose like a good perfume. It is not as easy to drink as rieslings, but it definitely grew on me. The first glass was not as good as the second and third. I specifically got Hugel for the Gewurztraminer because the Alsace region is renowned for Gewurztraminer. I am not disappointed.


life stops when the machine starts
August 1, 2009, 8:03 am
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It is amazing how prescient EM Forster’s The Machine Stops is, given that it was written way back in 1909, long before the internet was invented and the digital age even begun. Forster manages to encapsulate the anxieties and pitfalls of embracing technology, by illustrating a world in which the substance and warmth of humanity has been replaced by cold efficiency and shallow satiation of the senses.

Forster paints a world in which sterile and faceless technology has infiltrated all aspects of life. People literally live in their own worlds, as they do everything in subterranean hexagonal cells with various machines that provide for all of their needs. The Machine, as it is rather blandly named, provides everything that humans need. No one lives above the ground anymore, and air outside in fact kills. Public gatherings are “clumsy” and have since been abolished. Travel is often unnecessary since telecommunications is so advanced.

The protagonist, Vashti, is a mother who lives apart from her son Kuno, and communicates with him only through imaging plates and knobs that adjusts broadcasted sound. Their relationship has the air of formality one would normally reserve for strangers and professional acquiantances, and Vashti was reluctant to physically visit her own son who wanted her counsel and help. Mother and child are literally and metaphorically distanced. Upon realising from him that he visited the surface, she was shocked, and disappointed with him, and saw him as a disgrace to the Machine, a formless entity to whom she owes a larger allegiance and more affection to.

The dystopian world Forster presents to us is clearly a product of fiction, but I can see parallels that world has with ours.

A key feature of life in the Machine is isolation. Life is solitary, and much of the “needless” social interaction has been either abolished or reduced to electronic means. Just as people in the story interact through electronic intermediaries, we too are doing the same. Instead of meeting physically, we meet online and talk through phones and email. Subcultures that excessively trumpets the call for technology to engulf every area of our lives like the “Otaku” culture in Japan are emerging. Electronic gaming has become to many an adequate substitute for physical sports and a hour or two in the sun.

While people of the Machine was physically and spiritually segregated, we are yet to reach that point. I guess physical seggregation is impossible in this increasingly congested planet, but spiritual and emotional seggregation is already creeping into our lifes. We plug into our iPods and tune out the world, people marry later and many do not marry at all. Traditional religions are losing their hold to individualistic materialism and secularism. Many of our children grow up playing single player electronic games, not board games or marbles with their kindergarden and primary school friends.

Marshall McLuhan famously opined that the medium is the message. The form of communication often has an impact on the message itself, and has the insidious and subtle power to transform the very relationships between people. There some truth to this, in relation to the impact of electronic communications has on human relationships.

Compare traditional post with email. Sending a mail by traditional post requires more effort; one has to buy sufficient stamps, find out the applicable postal rates, obtain the appropriate stationery, plan the letter, vet and edit drafts, set pen to paper, seal the letter, affix the stamp, get the address right and finally make the trip down to the post box to send the letter. Email in contrast is free and just require you to tap a few keys and click a few buttons.

When one sends a traditional letter, one has to be careful. Words must be carefully selected because there are constraints, like the amount of space on a post card and the need to maintain the aesthetics of the letter by avoiding cross-outs and minimising corrections. These concerns are less pronounced in the context of email.

Care requires effort. And effort is an expression of the amount of value one places on particular relationships. Effort has the peculiar ability to strengthen relationships through a cycle of positive feedback. The more effort a person puts into a relationship, the more likely the person will cherish his counterpart. In economic parlance, effort put into relationships can be termed as “sunk costs” which motivates a person to stick with preexisting relationships instead of seeking greener pastures.

I read from somewhere before that a handwritten letter is equivalent to a personal visit from a friend. Having received a few in the past month, I must say there is a large amount of truth to that statement. Nothing beats the sense of warmth and pleasant surprise that one gets upon receiving a letter from a cherished friend in the mail and reading about her feelings and reengaging with the happenings of her life.

In contrast emails are utilitarian and to some extent encourages careless thoughts and words. It is little wonder that email often find its greatest use in the calculative and coldly rational world of business, where time is everything, speed and efficacy is paramount and effective communication of facts and orders and not conveyance of emotion is required. However email as a mode of communication is sorely inadequate between friends.

Sadly the culture of letterwriting has been on the wane, with the prevalence of email and the ease of writing electronic letters. Email clearly has its place and usefulness, but my concern is that the ascension of email will come at the cost of another avenue through which human emotions and warmth can be cultivated.

However I am also confident that letterwriting will not be abolished. As the persistence of print in the information age suggests, people do recognise the inherent value of old technology. I hope the value of letter writing is not lost on future generations.

Just as I find room for hope, Forster is not a pessimist in his story. There is redemption at the end of the story. Mother and son kiss for the first time,the first and unfortunately last act of intimacy and love between them and an admission that life in the Machine is in fact not really life at all. Hopefully, just like how Vashti reaches a moment of epiphany, those of us that place blind faith in technology at the expense of our very humanity will too realise the truth before it is too late.

explaining binging

Humans are creatures of habit, and once automated behaviour is programmed into our subconsciousness, we stick with it regardless of its ill effects on us. David A. Kessler in The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite argues that overeating has its roots in the practices of the food industry and natural consequences of modernisation.

People overeat because we are primed by our surrounding environment to do so. Kessler suggests that it is more nurture than nature that percipitates binge eating. Food today is readily available, and served in large portions that encourage overeating. Food comes in all sorts of fancy packing and “new” flavours that encourage people to buy and sample them. Kessler vividly uses the metaphor of the “purple cow”: a person will not bat an eyelid at an ordinary cow, but the sight of a purple cow excites and intrigues.

More damningly, Kessler opined that the food industry has been consciously producing food products that encourages overeating and make consumers want to have more and more, in a bid to earn profits. According to Kessler’s research, the tools are sugar, fat and salt – that is in essence the three elements that trigger off an orgy of overeating. Add more sugar, more salt and more fat, in the right “magic” proportions, and you instantly get a product that the masses go crazy for.

I can see how this is practised in my immediate life. Potato chips come in all sorts of flavours, and they are amazingly salty and not to mention, fried in oil. Fast food are largely all fried and laden with salt – from french fries to old Chang Kee curry puffs. And fast food chains “innovate” by periodically offering new selections made using the same methods.

Reversing a culture of overeating is not easy. The method of adding more salt, sugar and fat takes advantage of deeply-ingrained primal instincts in humans. Our ancestors are programmed to be deeply attracted to high carbo, high salt and high fat foods because of their harsh environment where rich sources of fat and energy are scarce and survival necessitates that a person should gorge whenever he finds food. Obviously the modern human does not require this primeval instinct anymore, but the problem is that we still have this inbuilt mechanism deep within our brains.

The essence of what Kessler propose we do to combat the evil of overeating is consciousness of instinct and active denial of the influence of instinct. We have to know that our brains are telling us to eat and actively decide not to take up what our instincts tell us to do. Easier said than done, that is for sure.

Yet what sets us apart from mere animals is our capacity to deal with our baser instincts to promote the greater good or achieve a more important personal goal. The dominance of will over instinct can and should be the status quo.

the death of ivan ilyich
September 8, 2008, 11:25 am
Filed under: diary, the arts | Tags: , , ,


While it might be exceedingly hard currently to physically travel McCandless’s route through America, I am at least able to trace his literary trail. He read and admired the works of Leo Tolstoy and one book that accompanied him during his wandering was Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I fortuitously stumbled upon this book at my local library while browsing and borrowed it after realising its connection with the movie and book I liked.

It is a snappy yet profound read that stirs up much interesting thought about the purpose of life. I am penning some of my thoughts about what I feel the book has to say here.

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